Saturday, February 29, 2020

Material components with explicit cash values are bad

So working on my next campaign (as always) and I realized I wanted a fair number of spell casting classes and there's a lot of spells out there and a lot of different versions of spells so I went about marrying spell lists.

Here's what I really don't like about spells all across various versions of the game: material components with an explicit cost in GP.   "This spell requires a 5,000 gp diamond"... is excremental in my opinion. One it ignores economics, two it ignores economics. You want to know what sort of diamond would cost 5,000 gp if diamonds were needed in raise dead spells? All Diamonds would cost at least 5,000 gp.  The explicit cost is an attempt to set a limit on the spell which doesn't really explain the limit or take really take campaign economics into consideration. Explicit costs are also typically are  meaningless limits.

I enjoy material components for spells, I like the flavor and the limit they place on spell casting. Planning is good for a campaign as planning build investment in the campaign for the players.  I also just like the imagery of wizards and witches digging about in their magical kitbags for eyes of newts and a gold tooth from a dead liar.

But you must have 5, 500, or 5000 gp to cast this spell is weak because it typically isn't a limit. The economic burden of coming up with the required amount of cash is usually meaningless. The universality of the price is also annoying. The shorthand of cost also ignores what is special about the component.

If a given spell required "a diamond half the size of a dove's egg or larger" it might be a 5000 gp gem, or 12,000 imperial ringlets, or 3 demon would work in every campaign right out of the box for every DM, it would also be far more evocative. We want our games to be far more evocative. There's a lot more imagery in that diamond half the size of a dove's egg or larger than in most pile of generic gold pieces. The diamond size doesn't say it all , it doesn't explain just what the gem is doing helping out in that spell but it's heading in the right direction.


  1. I'm completely OK with ignoring economics.

    But on the other hand, I would think most GMs and even a few players would realize that the base value of something is not the same thing as the price paid for it. If nothing else, stealing a 5,000 gp diamond reduces its value to zero, but certainly it doesn't make it useless in spell casting, does it?

    I have an improv material component system. 30 to 180 gp worth of common ingredients for a given spell, for example. Or blood, tissue, feathers, or hair from a 1 HD enchanted creature per spell level. But there are always methods to gather these ingredients, rather than pay for them, like making a roll to see how much gp value you've gathered after ten minutes of harvesting. Because the gp value is just an arbitrary measurement that doesn't indicate a financial transaction is necessary for spell casting.

  2. A raise the dead spells should require a very rare gem, like the one mounted on the pommel of a magical sword currently owned and cherished by the greatest swordsman in the realms. He might part with it, but he'll want something and it probably won't be a cash request.

  3. It seems to me that the GP cost is actually the primary piece of information, where the fact that you need diamond dust, black lotus powder, etc. exists to add a little wonder to what mechanically is a banal financial transaction. 5000 GP to resurrect your friend.

    I would much prefer what was done with Fighting Fantasy/Sorcery!, where one really does need to track down goblin teeth for their summoning spell mid-adventure, but that's not really the system we've been provided.

  4. originally of course the value was assigned a GP value where it should of had a carat size and an adjustable value for that